Man, Alive! Fall 2020
NEW MEXICO MEN'S WELLNESS
Fall Edition 2020
Cover Photo by Uwe Schroeter
The days of summer begin to shorten, bringing the expectation of autumn days and cooler evenings. It is, as it has been for millenia, harvest; a time of ripening and collection.
For some of us, there is a specific moment when the hue of sunlight mixed with stillness signifies the arrival of another season. Others might experience ancestral stirrings as chevrons of migrating cranes and geese float overhead. We might sense gratitude for the beauty and abundance of fall; we may feel trepidation as the days begin to shorten and the anticipation of quiet days remind us of earlier lessons or losses.
Autumn is a rich time: memories, gratitude, reflection, change and harvest. We hope that this fall edition will stir or underscore some of these emotions. The contributions that follow remind us of generosity, vulnerability, honesty and the power of remaining available to ourselves, our loved ones, to strangers in need. All of this, all of these, are gifts from the harvest.
May we all strive to contribute, to share our harvest, to welcome one anothers’ means of sensing the seasons.
OFFERINGS AND CONTRIBUTIONS
just one word
by Mark Ayers
Earth (Preserve the Temple)
by Ray Johnson
Share a seed.
Plant if you wish.
We are here to talk of life force
And all manner of living things.
When the canopy is sewn together,
Disparate parts reach across
Connecting long ago memories
That are for us today.
Sacred Mother Earth,
We bring our attitude for adjustment,
Look for relation with you.
Cleansed we come
Intending integrity and sweet honesty
From our clan, the blood the roots.
Raices, protect them.
Seed will sprout.
by Hank Blackwell
Clouds loom low this morning,
remnants of yesterday’s long-awaited rain,
nestling in the folds of the mesas
This belated storm calmed
the cool morning
and wet earth
coaxing shelved hope
back into focus.
Purple asters opened.
by Victor La Cerva (from a work in progress, Thanatopia)
Does old age really fill us with pleasure, if only we know how to properly embrace it? Can we feel the beauty of our declining years, and savor it? How did we get so old? One day at a time! Old age, though despised, remains desired by all, despite it often manifesting with the twin scourges of boredom and loneliness. As the palette of possibility grows dimmer, many of us are not content to regularly spend our remaining time putting various balls through hoops and nets and into holes, playing cards or other inane – or at least not very creative – pursuits. There are times when it seems that all is lost: faculties, family members, familiar places, friends, energy, and independence. We may gradually find ourselves with a disheartening obsession around our maladies, aches and altered sleep, subjects of little burning interest to others. On some days, confronting them without fuss or fuming, keeping the glass half full, and maintaining a positive outlook feels like a lot of work. Finding some engagement that removes us from the past – so much now to reminisce about – and our present burdens of responsibilities and bodily complaints requires some out of the box thinking. How might we shape our days with a sense of looking forward, without flinching or fantasizing? When we heed the call to reinvent ourselves, we deepen creative passions or discover new ones. We each long to share our passions and our creative endeavors. How to bring forth the fire in our belly, even if it has lain dormant for many years? Do we still have the energy and motivation to manifest a heart’s desire?
Perhaps the invitation of aging is to go deeper, rather than broader. When we look closely, we find inspiration everywhere. Family members reinventing their careers in their fifties, people in their sixties getting married, friends in their seventies taking art classes. Somehow each day, we manage to navigate the stormy seas between the life we now have, and the one we would like. We have learned to accept that our needs and wants are not always met by the world in the way we desire. Perhaps we mourn the part of ourselves who somehow perished in the oceanic abyss between our ideal and our real personhood. The road not taken may still call, haunting us with the myth of our lost opportunities. No one wants to grow old and die with a lot of “potential.” The urge to produce something of value, to make a difference, to have a legacy worthy of our finest self, grows in intensity with the years. We want to share the fire of a creative life well lived. Sharing our talents and passions sweetens the trials of aging. Getting older often provides the time and space to explore those creative aspects of ourselves we left by the wayside during the hectic years of work and raising children. Passions beg to be released from the basement to breathe the fresh air of possibility. Pablo Picasso reminds us: “I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it. Inspiration does exist, but it must find you working. Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.”
A Persian proverb proclaims: “Every man goes down to his death bearing in his hands only that which he has given away.” How we define a successful life continues to evolve as we do, and aging certainly intensifies the examination of the purpose and meaning of our lives. We often think of inheritance in terms of financial prowess and physical assets. Yet an important chapter in the book of our legacy contains not only the larger contributions to society through our work, but those small acts of giving throughout our lifetime. The kindness we have shown through donations to charities, homeless people on the street, and initiatives through our local Elks, Rotary, Lions or Kiwanis community service clubs. And we must include in any accounting the priceless acts of service— bringing food to a sick neighbor, helping a teen through a troubled time, offering emotional support to a friend when they most needed it. All the time, energy and resources we provided in doing the best we could raising our children must also be acknowledged. When we actually take inventory of all the giving moments in our lives, we can feel deeply grateful, for we know that in the giving there is always receiving. What better praise can there be at our memorial than for many to stand up and share how we were there for them, or made a positive difference in their lives. Conscious aging asks that we continue to build upon our legacy of giving for as long as we are able. How many aged are there within our own family, neighborhoods, or community of friends, who are lonely or ill, and could use a helping hand? Harvesting legacy – similar to living our best life – happens one day at a time, those many meaningful moments floating like early morning dewdrops, falling falling to the earth.
Reflections on the Night-blooming Cereus
by Roger Harmon
“I think the cereus is going to bloom tonight!,” Nancy’s mother, Florence, declared excitedly.
Florence had said the same words on one night each year for the seven years Nancy and I were with her and her husband, Bruce, in California.
When Florence died 3 years ago, those who loved and admired her took a clipping from the original plant. We returned to live in New Mexico with a clipping that we stuck in a pot to root. For the first two years there were many leaves but no buds. But this year we had buds! We eagerly awaited that one night of the year when the buds would open–and, by morning be gone.
One night in July, just as had Florence, Nancy said excitedly, “I think it’s going to bloom tonight!”
And sure enough around 10:00 p.m. all three blossoms opened brilliantly, standing forth in contrast to the anything-but-beautiful desert plant. (Please see attached photos.)
Nature’s beautiful gift is enough. However, the connection and continuity we felt with Florence and other family through the cereus was also special. Throughout the summer, we received photos from Arizona and California of spectacular blossoms opening from clippings others had taken from the original plant. And with the photos came messages of both gratitude and longing for Florence and Bruce, now both gone.
I thought of how the blossoming forth of the cereus symbolized a thread that William Stafford wrote about in his poem, “The Way It Is” copied here:
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
For us the cereus has been the thread that connects us to the wonders and cycles of Nature as well as to loved ones of three generations who share in the miracle of this fleeting flower.
Reflections on 32 Years of Recovery
by Mark Ayers
~ Dedicated to Michael S., one of the dearest companions on my journey.
He embodies “to carry this message” to the still-suffering addict.
On my 32nd anniversary of sobriety,
I take time to recollect,
Enjoy the moment,
And look toward the future.
I recall this dark chapter of my life:
The addiction was insidious,
Controlling my body, mind and soul.
Immersed in secrecy, I led a double life
And spiraled downwards until
I became someone I hated.
Powerless to stop,
Sowing incessant unmanageability,
I sought a doorway out of this existence.
A turning point…
A glimmer of hope emerges:
Though feeling timid, shame-filled, unworthy.
I walk into my first 12-Step meeting
On August 28, 1988.
I believe if people in the room really know me,
I will be rejected and ostracized.
Instead I am welcomed and accepted.
Miraculously, the more they come to know me,
The more they love me, and I begin to change.
Enjoy the moment…
Fast forward 32 years:
I’m not the person I once used to be.
Myriad wounds are healed.
Forgiveness has become a daily practice.
I injure no one, including myself,
And I’m buoyed by expansive support.
Indeed, I’ve created a family of choice,
Five young men of right actions and integrity.
I am enveloped in grace and blessing.
Looking toward the future…
I seek a husband with whom
I can intertwine my life’s richness.
I strive to release my poetic self
And I welcome the re-imagined me.
As my first grandchild will soon be born,
I aspire to be the nurturing grandpa I never knew.
Ultimately, I intend to walk this pathway
Until my final breath, leaving a legacy
Of a better world for my having been here.
Note: Rev. Ann Rea of the Everyday Center for Spiritual Living in Santa Fe, New Mexico inspired the framework for this poem.
Life at a New England Boys’ Boarding School
When I was a teenager, I went to a boys’ boarding school in northwest Connecticut. These are some of my memories.
It was our family tradition to send boys to boarding school. My uncle and my brother had attended this same school. There was a side chapel off the main chapel that was in memory of my uncle Gavin who was killed in a motorcycle accident in his first year of college.
It was a church school – Episcopal. It was what they called “high church” – the services were in Latin and the chapel was often filled with burning frankincense. Chapel every evening and twice on Sunday was mandatory. We had to kneel on a stone floor on these thin pads. The Sunday morning service was before breakfast, and sometimes a student would just keel over – faint – and need help coming to. It happened to me once. They came to get me. I remember opening my eyes as they dragged me past the alter – perhaps a spiritual experience of sorts. They then took me outside and dumped me into a snow bank. It worked well to revive me.
They were serious about students being at breakfast, and being at breakfast on time. Those who were late for breakfast had to run a one-mile course around the campus, no matter how cold or hot the weather. In northwestern Connecticut, it did get quite cold in the winter. We could also go to chapel in the mornings. This was optional, and it was in addition to the required evening services. I did that quite a bit. God knows why. But afterwards we got to have breakfast with the priest. That seemed a little more humane, and we weren’t subjected to the crowded, noisy, somewhat intimidating dining hall experience with the rest of the school.
Morning chapel was held while everybody else was at breakfast. When we ate breakfast with the priest after chapel, we got to eat our fill. This didn’t always happen at regular mealtimes. The tables in the dining hall had benches on both sides and a chair at the head of the table. The senior (“sixth former”) sat in the chair. The rest of us sat on the benches, in order by class, with the lowest class (“second formers”) at the bottom. The food followed suit, starting with the senior and working its way down. Those at the bottom got what was left, the less desirable and smaller portions.
Anyway, when they took attendance at breakfast, eventually they just assumed I was at chapel. Once I figured this out, I also figured out that I could sleep through breakfast. This was a “privilege” not even seniors got to have.
The seniors were given considerable power over students in the lower classes. We had to call them Sir, they inspected our rooms for cleanliness and contraband, they made sure we were on time for bed, and they inspected our performance on various chores such as sweeping classrooms. If we had food, we had to turn it in to the seniors for “safekeeping” at night. If we were late to bed, the punishment was to get out in the hall with the other tardy kids and do various exercises, such as pushups, leaning up against the wall in the “chair position”, doing a duck walk, and so on. There was one senior who during this would walk around with a short, thick stick, slapping it into the palm of his hand. I never saw him hit anybody with it, but it was a threatening gesture that I remember clearly and that I found frightening.
What was considered contraband was interesting. Any food (that we had not turned in to the seniors); any money over $1; any “medical supplies” such as bandaids, Nodoz, or aspirin; and radios – all were considered contraband. Alcohol or cigarettes, or for that matter pot, were unthinkable. Yes, radios. We were allowed to have record players but not radios. I also had a $99 reel-to-reel tape recorder that I bought with my first summer job’s proceeds. The logic behind the radio ban, as best as I can figure, was so you were not distracted from your studies for long periods of time. You could turn on the radio and it would keep playing, but a record player would stop at the end of a record, and you would have to put another one on. One fellow student had a record player that also had a radio built in. He had put black tape over the radio dial so you couldn’t tell it was there. On the day President Kennedy was shot, we were able to hear what was going on on that radio.
One of the things the seniors did from time to time were contraband raids. They would come into your room while you were asleep and turn on all the lights (usually a very startling experience) and basically tear your room apart and dump everything on the floor, looking for contraband. They would open all your drawers and dump the contents, tear your bed apart, flip the pages of your books and notebooks (presumably looking for money), etc. Finding nothing (I don’t recall they ever did), they would leave the room and tell you to clean it all up in say 10 minutes. One time, I did have contraband. Remember those old foam mattresses with the holes through them? I had some cash rolled up and slid into one of those holes, and they didn’t find it. I was pleased with myself for getting away with that.
One last memory. One year, I got in trouble towards the end of the school year. I had to stay a few days after all the other students had left for summer vacation. My punishment was to do yard work all day, sunup to sundown. The chaplain lived on school grounds with his family. I got to know the chaplain’s daughter, Amanda. We were both 14. She was a beautiful girl, and I remember she had long black hair down to her waist. During the day, she would bring me cold lemonade as I worked out in the fields. In the evenings, we would hang out together. One evening we kissed. It was the first time I had ever kissed a girl. It was wonderful. Some 60 years later I still have a lock of her hair.
The Best Place and Time
by Roger Harmon
The best place, the best time for dogs in Albuquerque is the University of New Mexico golf course from 7 p.m. to sunset. For one hour or so the golfers are gone, dogs run free and their families, many who have stayed home all day, frolic on the fairways. The sun is dropping, bathing the mountains in pink. Pure joy!
by Hank Blackwell
I walk the remote hills
under my hat,
a piercing summer sun.
Dust rises with each footstep
over dry mounds
of gray cheatgrass
waiting for rain.
I am alone here,
a mixed blessing…
fills one pocket,
the other remains empty…
I stay busy –
coaxing the baked earth
not to die…
for a harvest
of any kind….
By Mark Ayers
This morning I went a’ hiking
No particular destination in mind.
I meandered uphill on a well-trodden path
Amidst quiet pines and granite boulders.
Eventually, I headed towards Goat Hill
And its scenic panorama
Of rolling hills, solitary mesas,
And the distant village of Las Vegas just awakening.
On that hilltop, I climbed over rocks
And I wandered among the trees.
I noted the aspen giving way reluctantly
To the softer hardwoods,
In a timeless cycle of succession.
For a moment, I sat in silent contemplation
But eventually I arose to move on.
I knew I had not yet arrived.
I followed one rustic road,
And then another.
Searching for a familiar path,
Yet none appeared.
Still the forest beckoned
And I listened.
I walked among tall conifers
Their cones strewn in a carpet
Of fallen needles
And branches no longer needed.
There I encountered a formerly majestic old pine
Long tumbled over,
Now disconnected from its roots,
Its wood-pecked holes empty and lifeless.
Gradually, it was decaying into the earth
From which it had been birthed.
In that moment, I discovered
What I had been seeking:
In this reconstituting of life,
I found an emerging poem
Striving to be given voice.
WEB INSIGHTS- DO NOT MISS!
Wellness, well-being and now, suggestions regarding coping with Covid-19 from Victor LaCerva at:
This section is intended to hold a place for announcements of relevant events and happenings, as well as invitations for participation, support, in the fashion of pulling your neighbors and loved ones together for an old-fashioned barn-raising. Here are a few such items to prime the pump for the next edition:
2020 FALL Conference is Happening!:
NMMW Re-Envisioned: We certainly live in tumultuous times that have disrupted our daily lives. Much of what we do has been canceled or postponed. This, however, will not be the case with the NMMW 2020 Fall Conference. The event is on! Your intrepid Leadership Team – Mark Ayers (Fearless Leader), Doug Booth (Meditation Man), Norm Dawson (New Kid on the Block), and Ray Johnson (The Bard) – have been meeting since May. We’ve decided to host a 3-day conference, Friday – Sunday, October 23-25. Our theme is “Wholeness & Vulnerability.”
The Fall Conference will be a hybrid event: both virtual and in-person attendees. Most men will be able to attend via Zoom. Additionally, Vittorio has been in dialogue with Ghost Ranch to negotiate single rooms, boxed meals, and private bathrooms.
A limited number of spaces will be available, and COVID-19 guidelines will be adhered to.
More details will be forthcoming in a few weeks, but here are a few teasers:
- 4 Soul Groups during the weekend
- 2 Grief Ceremonies
- Break Out Groups on Timely Issues
- Participant-Led Workshops
- Coffee House & Writers’ Gathering on Saturday evening
Get excited! We will be able to connect as a community this fall.
Gay-Straight Dialogue #3
Tuesday, September 1, 2020 7 – 8:30 PM via Zoom
Gay-Straight Dialogue explores male intimacy. How does homophobia impact our desire to connect? What do we seek in our relationships with other men? What is it we want but are afraid to ask for/ What gets in the way of what we truly want? This marks the third occasion in which Mark Ayers and John Bishop have led this type of conversation. Both savor the presence of men in their lives and seek to deepen those connections.
Registration is first come, first serve. Please email Mark at email@example.com.
WE EXPECT THE NEW WEBSITE TO BE UP AND RUNNING BY THE END OF THE MONTH. IT LOOKS BEAUTIFUL! Kudos to Mark Pugsley for endless hours of work and coordination.
Michael Sheppard still looking for short self produced videos to use for NMMW social media promotion. Contact him for format and details! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Victor puts out short weekly free podcasts, and the last few have been on coronavirus—with his public health medical hat on in terms of what to expect and how to protect oneself and one’s family. If you wish to sign up, you can do so at myheartsongs.org Proper hand washing is king! Social distance, or better compassionate spaciousness (6 feet) when prudent, particularly if you are over 55 with a chronic heart or lung disease. This is a lung disease: if you have a runny nose or nasal congestion with other symptoms, you most likely do NOT have coronavirus infection.
The Health Department has a toll free number if you have questions or concerns about getting tested. 855-600-3453
They also developed this questionnaire – designed to assist facilities with a large number of elderly – that may also be useful to help you “self assess” your current risk:
NEW MEXICO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
FACILITY VISITOR SCREENING QUESTIONAIRE
In response to concerns regarding COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019), and in accordance with guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), this facility is screening all visitors for certain risk factors before entrance is allowed. Facilities may restrict or limit visitation rights for reasonable clinical and safety reasons, specifically to prevent community associated infection or communicable disease transmission to the residents. See 42 CFR §483.10(f)(4).
1. Have you traveled internationally in the last 14 days to any country currently designated by the CDC as a high-risk location
2. Have you had signs of a respiratory infection in the last 14 days, such as a fever, cough and/or sore throat?
3. Have you had contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with, or screened for COVID-19?
4. Have you traveled to another state with widespread community transmission of COVID-19 in the last 14 days?
Love and hugs and we will all get through this!
Your NMMW Board:
Victor La Cerva